Allison Janney Turns Personal Tragedy into Emmy Nominations


By Staff Writer

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We can’t handle the truth. At least, not usually. We watch television to escape the real world. Even our reality TV is scripted and carefully edited, to make sure that the “true stories” displayed don’t accidentally veer too close to the real world: raw, gritty, and held at bay by the fences of entertainment we build.

And if that’s what we expect from “reality” TV, consider what we expect of our sitcoms: fluffy, implausible scenarios that make us giggle for twenty-two minutes while we turn our minds off, until they are somehow nicely resolved before the credits roll.

Sitcoms are no place for addiction. We don’t want TV to reflect reality that well. Or do we?

The Allison Janney vehicle Mom suggests that the sitcom writers of America have greatly underestimated their audience. As the show enters its fifth season, America has fallen in love with recovering addict Bonnie, portrayed by Janney with her typical acidic wit. The show’s dynamic turns on the chemistry between Janney’s Bonnie and her (also-recovering) daughter Christy, played by Ana Faris.

Two characters recovering from their addictions isn’t typical sitcom fare. Yet Mom has struck a nerve, finding an audience that’s supported it for four seasons. And more is on the way; news broke recently that Mom would be renewed for an upcoming fifth season.

Eddie Gorodetsky, one of the show’s creators, believes the reality is actually what works for Mom, telling CBS “the humor is much more important when it’s carrying an issue of some sort…you want to be able to root for that mother.” Executive producer Chuck Lorre echoed that sentiment, telling HuffPo in 2015 “I think people in general are all trying to lead better lives than the lives they were leading yesterday.”

That all-too-human struggle and potential for redemption resonates with Mom’s audience. It also motivates Janney, for whom the show is extremely personal; in 2011, her younger brother committed suicide after battling addiction and depression. “I just want to do [the show]for him,” Janney said in 2014.

Critics and fans certainly approve. In the show’s first two seasons, Janney won back-to-back Emmys for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. She would be nominated a third time in 2016; this year, the evolution of her role on the show has bumped her into the lead actress category, for which she is nominated.

Although the awards are nice validation, they’re not the reason Janney comes to work each day. For her, it’s about showing America two strong women “who are survivors, who are going to make it. I love it when people came up to me and say, ‘I’ve been in recovery for four years or 25 years, and I thank God this show is on TV.”

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